My dad, a Boston attorney was generous to a fault. When I say that, I mean his fault was not that he was too generous, but that when he was, his taste could be, well, call it…questionable. I can’t tell you how many times he bought my mother gifts of clothing she returned, but it was such a regular occurrence I used to wish just once, she’d keep something he bought for her. His taste wasn't all bad. Nowadays, I suspect the refusal to accept anything he bought may have been some kind of power trip, but it also could have been because he did a lot of his shopping at Filene's Basement, the liquidator for the now defunct department store. If you never knew the place, it worked like this. An item arrived on the floor with the tag marked at a reduced price, as well as scheduled dates for future markdowns. So, if you were daring enough to risk someone else scooping an item you coveted, you could wait it out and potentially end up with an awesome deal. But the truth of it was, a lot of the things that hung around until the final markdown were of questionable colors or patterns, and often, my dad cut through The Basement on his way to the train station for the trip home.
Anyway, the Christmas of my senior year in college, I opened up a box holding a wool skirt, and let’s just say, I knew who bought it and where. The quality of the material was excellent, the fit, slightly irregular but passable, the color, well, blocks of grey, mustard, and rust. And back then folks, I was a blue, pink, and teal sort of girl. But I was also approaching the end of my schooling, with potential job interviews pending, and my wardrobe consisted of jeans and corduroys. So, as ugly as it appeared to me, I wore the thing. Probably the reason I remember it so vividly, was that every time I put it on I wished it looked better. But I knew who bought it and I wanted to like it. Therefore, I pretended I did.
A long time later, years after I stopped forcing myself to put it on, that skirt made it to the donation pile. But this time of year, when I look out to the land around me, I always remember it. I have no doubt the designer of that piece of apparel took inspiration from rusty oak leaves skittering up the street, from the swallows lined up on the telephone wire, the yellow leaf-rags refusing to lift from the stalwart ash. I imagine it rumpled across the land when I see the colors of November, the granite walls we see again, now the leaves have dropped, in the feather-wisp of smoke-colored clouds smudging the late afternoon sky. I didn’t like that skirt, and even now, I'm guessing the inspiration didn't translate. But I remember it and wonder, if I could pull it out of my closet again, whether now, I'd recognize the subtle beauty my dad must have seen all those years ago when he bought it for a steal.